Amtrak CEO: Appropriations proposal would preserve daily service, avoid job cuts

Passenger news: Spot check finds long-distance sellouts; roomette promotion emphasizes social-distance advantages
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Intrastate passengers line up to board the southbound Silver Meteor at Jacksonville, Fla., on May 10, 2018. Such intrastate travel is no longer available daily to Floridians, even though coach seating was selling out before service was reduced.


Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn has told members of Congress that proposed funding for fiscal 2021 “would enable us to avoid frequency reductions on our Long Distance routes, as well as minimize further impacts to our workforce.”

In a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Flynn says the found would also allow Amtrak to continue investing “in our aging assets, such as infrastructure, fleet, and stations, on both the Northeast Corridor and National Network.” The bill proposes $10.05 billion in Amtrak funding in 2021 [see “Appropriations bill would require Amtrak to maintain service to get funds,” News Wire Digest, July 9, 2020].

In the letter, available here, Flynn lists projects that will get a portion of the proposed funding: three New York-New Jersey Gateway Program projects; Americans with Disability Act compliance; single-level fleet replacement; positive train control for the Southwest Chief route; replacement of Northeast Corridor bridge replacements; Amtrak’s share of proposed Virginia-led improvements south of Washington, D.C. (including help with land acquisition on the now-abandoned former-Seaboard “S” Line to Raleigh, N.C.); corridor improvements or possible new starts around the country; station repairs and PTC implementation.

The appropriators make it clear capital investments providing more than short-term emergency job protection will be key in getting bipartisan support for companion Senate legislation. Significantly, Flynn has incorporated retention of daily trains along with a recap of where the funding might go that touches all regions of the country and types of service. Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-N.C.) represents a district along the state’s Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont corridor; the district of Ranking Member Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) Hialeah, where Amtrak maintains all of its long distance Amfleet II and Viewliner equipment.

In its previous request for an additional $1.5 billion to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the company indicated it planned to partially continue infrastructure projects but would nevertheless need to cut most long-distance trains frequencies.

In other passenger news:

Spot check shows sellouts on long-distance routes
A Trains News Wire random check of reservation activity over the past three weeks shows that even with daily service, coach seating on some portions of long-distance trains — limited to 50% coach capacity because of COVID-19 — are selling out before departure. The sell-outs are prevalent mainly around weekends.    

Some examples (dates shown are those of departure from point of origin):

City of New Orleans

From Chicago: June 26, 27; July 2, 5
— Into Chicago: June 26, 27; July 2, 3, 5

Texas Eagle

From Chicago: June 26, 28; July 2, 3, 5, 12
— Into Chicago: July 2, 3, 4, 5

Crescent

— From Washington: June 26, 27; July 2, 3, 5,* 6
— Into Washington: July 2, 3,* 4, 5, 6

Silver Meteor

—From Washington: June 18, 19, 26, 27; July 2, 3, 5
—Into Washington: June 27, 28, 29; July 5

(* Trains were sold out but did not run owing to a NS derailment on July 3 in Alabama. Amtrak could not provide the number of passengers with reservations affected. It cancelled the southbound Crescent on July 5 rather than operate standby equipment out of New York.)

Although Amtrak has still not revealed details of how it would reduce 12 now-daily long-distance train frequencies [see “Amtrak plans triweekly service for almost all long-distance trains as of Oct. 1,” Trains News Wire, June 15], it did eliminate daily cross-Florida service and establish a five-day hiatus through North and South Carolina on the Silver Star’s route [see “Amtrak cutting frequency of Silver Star, Silver Meteor as of July 6,” Trains News Wire, June 22.]

The Silver Meteor now only runs Monday through Thursday from New York and Sunday through Wednesday from Miami, so five of the 11 sold-out dates above came on days when the train now does not operate.

Roomette sale points out social-distancing advantages
Meanwhile, the company is running a roomette companion fare promotion through this Friday, July 17. Stressing the unique isolating advantages afforded by private rooms on a promotion previously offered only on Auto Train, the “Buy one-Get one” deal is good on every overnight train through August 31. Selling points, details, and restrictions are provided on the promotion page on Amtrak's website.

Adweek columnist Robert Klara’s analysis of the promotion is available here.

 

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